By Simon ManchesterSunday 15 May 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 20 minutes
Our Heavenly Father, we ask this morning that Your Word would be our rule and our guide, and that Your Holy Spirit would be our teacher, our illuminator. And we pray that Your glory would be our great concern and that Your Word would bring the challenge and the comfort which we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now friends, on these Sunday mornings, we are following an argument which is in the New Testament. It’s John Chapter 8, where Jesus said something which is so important, it’s either the best news that you can hear, or it is so ridiculous as to be quite annoying. He made the claim, as you may know, to be the light of the world – John Chapter 8. In other words, He said I am essential for your safety and I am essential for your future.
And because the world is a very dark place and there are many of us here this morning who know what it is like to be in some kind of personal darkness, we are extremely grateful for when the Lord Jesus comes alongside us and sheds light on the path. Or, the situation that we are in, because we know the world is morally very dark and we are thankful for every transformation that takes place by the Lord Jesus. Because we know that the world is spiritually very dark and we are thankful for the way in which the Lord Jesus brings people out of darkness into spiritual light. And because the future looks very dark for many people and we are thankful for the way the Lord Jesus totally lights up and transforms the future. There are many of us today who are extremely grateful that Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
But because the light of the world is very great and very dogmatic, it’s easier for many people to ignore it – easier to ignore it than to take it seriously and to follow Jesus seriously. However, the truth that He is the light of the world will not lie down and go away. It keeps establishing itself, and that’s what truth does. I could whisper to you this morning that a physical light, an electric light, is very important for the world. And it doesn’t matter if nobody listens. It doesn’t matter whether I say it loudly. It doesn’t matter whether I say it once, or a thousand times. The truth will substantiate itself. Physical light is extremely important for the world. And when Jesus Christ speaks, very simply, ‘I am the light of the world’, it doesn’t matter whether He shouts it, or says it quietly, or says it a thousand times. It is the truth and it establishes itself. He is the light of the world, and you either learn it and you benefit greatly, or you miss it…and then of course … you struggle.
Well, we are following the debate in John Chapter 8. We are following it for at least two reasons. One is that what Jesus says about Himself is right. He is essential to the world, to the future of the world, and to the safety of people in the world. And His argument just keeps on succeeding as an argument. You know what it is like when you go to the movies. There must be some people here who go to the occasional action movie. And one of the great things, the exciting thing about an action movie, is that the opposition keeps coming at the hero. You know, it keeps picking itself up and dusting itself down and coming at the hero. The opposition keeps coming. That’s part of the excitement. And part of the enjoyment of the movie is that you know that the hero is going to outlast the opposition. That’s one of the really enjoyable parts of an action movie. And so the whole world is carrying on: it is riding on trains and it’s going about its routines and it is doing its work and it’s going to football games and it is doing all the normal things that are just normal and wonderful. But there is somebody in the midst of the movie who understands that there are critical issues. And he is at work to make sure that people are safe.
And so it is with the Lord Jesus. There is one Person who understands the critical issues, the eternal issues, and He is at work to make sure that people are safe, and He will outlast the opposition.
And of course, the other reason why we are studying John Chapter 8 is because when we come out of the movies, and we realise the movie is a fiction, we come out and we discover that we are in a kind of a battle, and it’s non-fiction. I remember when Tony Morphett, who is a script-writer with one of the TV channels, became a Christian. And he gave his little testimony at the beginning of the book and he said that he was very grateful that Phillip Jensen had taught him to read the New Testament as facts and to leave fiction at the TV studio. Now we who follow Jesus Christ, we are trying to stick to His Words, to His promises and to His instructions. We are trying to stick to what He says. And we need to realise that if we are going to stick to what He claims and if we are going to republish His claims and if we are going to be His representatives, it will bring a certain amount of opposition. It’s part of being a disciple, to represent His claims and not just to try and live like Him. He didn’t get crucified for being kind, remember. He was crucified for His claims. And you and I will get opposition, not for being kind, but you and I will get opposition for republishing His claims. But republishing His claims is a kindness, because when you republish His claims, you help people understand Him and appreciate Him and come to Him. If you are travelling along a highway, and you see a sign at the petrol station and it says, ‘Last petrol for 500 kms’. It’s a pushy sign, isn’t it. It basically says, ‘If you don’t pull in here, you are going to run out of petrol.’ But it’s a very kind sign, because it says, ‘If you don’t pull in here, you are going to run out of petrol.’ And when we publish the claims of Jesus and He says, ‘I am the light of the world’, it looks like a pushy thing, but it is a very kind thing, because without Him, you go forward in darkness and even into death. And that is how Jesus describes Himself, very clearly, very kindly, ‘I am the light of the world’. Without me, He says, you will be in darkness and death; with Me, you will have the light of life.
What we saw last week, as we began the argument in John Chapter 8, is that the reaction of the people listening to Jesus was to say to Him: that’s Your opinion. And Jesus came back, very faithfully, and said: no, the Father is with Me. The God that you believe in is behind Me. They said – show us the Father. He said – start with Me, and everything else will fall into place. In other words, the Lord Jesus knocks on the door of the world, and when the person in the world wants to know whether God is real, He can work it out through Jesus. If He wants to know whether God is loving, he can work it out through Jesus. If he wants to know whether God is powerful, He can work it out with Jesus. If He wants to know whether God is unique and authoritative, He can work it out through Jesus. It’s Jesus who knocks on the door and it’s Jesus who people must deal with and then, of course, everything else starts to fall into place.
Well, that’s the great news if you are willing, but very annoying if you are unwilling. Jesus is dealing with the annoyed.
Let’s go to the text. Let’s turn to Chapter 8 Verse 21. I am excited about this passage this morning. You know, I don’t get very excited, but I am excited. And I want you to be excited about this passage too. I preached it at the earlier service. It was like telling the Hungarian Shipping News. It meant absolutely nothing to anybody, except me! I was the only person who went out of Church excited. Chapter 8 Verse 21. I want you to see that Jesus is launching the truth. It’s urgent. That’s the first point. Second, it’s authoritative. Third, it’s victorious.
It’s urgent – Verse 21. He says (this is the negative) this is the reason, says Jesus, you need Me, because: ‘I am going away and you will look for Me and you will die to your sin’. In other words, Jesus says: I have told you positively that I am the light of the world… you are against that. Well now, I am going away and you will start looking and you will die in your sin. In other words, says Jesus, you can’t do without Me and everything will be okay. I know that you would like to do without Me and everything will be okay, but it just won’t happen. That’s the sadness, isn’t it, with so many of our relatives and friends. They would just love to just go on and not have to do anything with Jesus Christ. But it won’t be okay. It won’t be okay without Jesus Christ. It’s going to be a sunset for those people – all the light that they have, is just going to fade away. But for the person who joins up with Jesus Christ, it is sunrise. Everything will get brighter, eventually.
When Jesus says in Chapter 8, Verse 21 ‘I go away’, it’s a very pregnant sentence, because we know He is going away to the cross, and then we know He is going away to the grave, and then we know He is going away to the resurrection, and then we know He is going away to Heaven. So, it’s a very pregnant phrase. What He basically means is I am going to leave and you are not going to see Me any more. And the problem, He says, is that you are going to start seeking Me – not in the honourable sense ‘Seek and you will find’ – no, they (the Jews) are going to keep seeking the Messiah. But they have rejected the Messiah, and so they will die in their sins, because Jesus is the Messiah… and they cannot come to face God safely if they are still in their sins. Only the people who have come to Jesus and been washed in this world can face God safely.
Now you see how urgent this is for Jesus. He said positively, ‘I am the light of the world’ but they are not interested. He says, ‘I am going to leave and you are going to be lost without Me’. It’s a life and death issue as far as Jesus is concerned.
I remember I went forward at the Billy Graham crusade in 1968. I wasn’t a believer, but I went forward, and I wasn’t converted. But I went forward. And I think, then, I started to receive their magazine. And the magazine was called ‘Decision’. It’s a great word. We must make a decision. And Jesus is saying to His listeners, and He is saying to all the world, ‘You must make a decision’. But of course, we know what people do. They say, ‘I will put this in a tray of my brain. And it sits in the tray of my brain and you know, I don’t want to have to think too hard about it, and I am very busy and I have so much to do.’ And so it sits in the tray and the person either says, ‘I don’t want to do anything about it’ or ‘I am just unwilling to do anything about it.’ And eventually, that becomes the decision. That is the decision. The decision is – no decision. And that is a decision and that person suddenly comes to the end of their days. They die in their sins. They cannot face God safely.
In Verse 22, the Jews don’t see this as a big issue at all. They say to Him, since He said he was going, ‘Is He going to go away and kill Himself? Is He talking about suicide? Is it Jesus’ problem?’ And Jesus then says something in Verse 23 which is absolutely brilliant and it forces the issue. He says, ‘You are from below. I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.’
Now friends, I can’t tell you what a powerful, brilliant thing that is to say. That is a great wake-up sentence. If you are in the city this week and somebody comes up and asks you for money, try saying to them, ‘I can’t give you any money because I am not from this world. You are from this world, but I am not from this world.’ Just try it. And if you are having an argument at the dinner table and you feel that you are losing, just try saying to them, ‘Look, in the end, I can’t explain this to you, because you are from this world, and I am not from this world.’ And if you want to break up with somebody, try looking at them and saying, ‘You know, this will never work because in the end, you are from this world and I am not from this world.’ Do you not think that is a great wake-up sentence?
I will tell you something, if you do use the sentence, you won’t be deeply respected. You will be deeply distrusted. It is such a weird thing to say, unless you are Jesus. And it doesn’t lose Him any respect at all. It fits entirely with the way Jesus is, and the way Jesus speaks. And they immediately say, in Verse 25: who are You? They don’t dismiss Him. They want to know, ‘Who are You?’
Of course, He is not talking geographically. He is not just saying: I am from up there and you are from down here. He is still talking in the categories of death and darkness – that’s them; and light and life – that’s Him. And He is saying to them: please, I want you to understand – this is not a little moral issue. I am not talking to you about whether you smoke or not; I couldn’t care two-hoots. He says I am not talking about religion; I don’t care whether you like the Book of Common Prayer or whether you like a totally free and crazy service. I don’t really care, says Jesus (we might say). He’s not even talking about something global. He is talking about something cosmic. He is talking about something eternal. He says you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am He. And behind this little phrase ‘I am He’, meaning I am the Messiah, I am the Saviour, I am the Lord, is the sort of thing which we had in our first reading from Isaiah 43, where God says: you must understand that I am He. I am the Lord… and apart from Me, there is no saviour. And Jesus steps in and says: you must understand that I am He. Without Me, says Jesus, you will go forward. Yes, you will go forward, but you will go forward in your sins. And if you go forward in your sins, that is a disaster. But with Me, He says, you will go forward in My mercy. And if you go forward in My mercy, that is wonderful. But it is, of course, much too sharp for the listeners. And it’s too sharp for the people that I speak to, very often. And it’s too sharp for the people that you speak to. And you know what your neighbours are like and I know what my neighbours are like, and you know what the people you work with are like and I know what the people I mix with are like. This is a very sharp doctrine.
I tell you a crazy conversation I had with somebody this week. I went to visit somebody in the Parklea Prison and I gave a lift home to a lovely African lady who had been visiting her son. I will give you a little summary of the conversation. It lasted about an hour and a half. But I will try and edit it for you in such a way that I come out as a fast-thinking theological genius! And basically, it went like this. She was rejoicing, because her son had become a Christian in prison. And so we talked as if we were two believers for a while. But when I asked some more questions, I realised that she wasn’t a Christian. And so I asked her, ‘Well, why do you think Jesus died?’ And she said, ‘I am against the idea of sin.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s why Jesus says He did die, to ransom us from our sins.’ And she said, ‘You are reading the Bible too narrowly.’ And throughout the whole conversation, she had an escape window for everything that I could think of. If I said, ‘Let’s talk about salvation’, she said, ‘That’s too negative’. If I said, ‘Let’s talk about the Scriptures’, she said, ‘That’s too literal’. And the point of my story, and you will be encouraged by this, is that I completely failed to persuade her. I completely failed. And it is a frequent experience for me, that I cannot persuade someone. I am sure it is a frequent experience for you that you cannot persuade someone as well. In fact, I imagine it’s a frequent expectation – why even start the conversation… I won’t be able to change their mind. But the wonderful thing is, you see, that Jesus Christ is able to persuade, any minute He wants to.
And that brings me to the second thing this morning, which is the authority of Jesus Christ, from Verse 25. We have just looked at the urgency. Now let’s look at the authority in Verse 25.
They say, ‘Who are you?’ And He says, ‘Just what I have been claiming all along: I have much to say in judgement of you.’ Now friends, listen to this: this is quite a meaty thing and if you get it, I think you will be as thrilled, as I was, to see it. If you miss it, you will have to ask me afterwards. But the issue for Jesus, in talking with these people, is not a question of whether He will get through. He’s the Lord. The question is which role will He play with these people? Should He hide things, or should He reveal things? Should He leave them in the dark, or should He put the lights on? Should He say something which is judgemental, or should He bring salvation? And His response to the question, in Verse 25, is a little bit of a window into His mind, because He actually says two things (this is the literal meaning): first of all, Verse 25, why do I speak to you? And then He says, Verse 26, ‘I have much to say to you.’ Why do I speak to you? I have much to say to you.
It seems that we are being given (this is the beauty of Scripture) a little window into the tension in the mind of the Lord Jesus. Should He reveal? Should He hide? Should He be the Judge? Should He be the Saviour? Verse 25, literally, in the original language says, ‘First, why do I speak to you?’ Now our translators are so shocked by that, it’s too frank for them, but they have come up with a more friendly… something like – what I have been saying all along, or, from the beginning, what I have been saying. But actually, Jesus is saying something very profound. He is saying: first, I don’t know why I speak to you… I can leave you in the dark. And second, He says: I have much to say to you. I want you in the light.
The point of this, you see, is that Jesus is not struggling to connect. We struggle to connect, but He is not struggling to connect. The question for Him is: will He connect them to a silence, which is a judgement; or will He connect them to a message, which is gracious. Just to give you one human example of this: I was very struck, reading the biography of Henry Martyn, who was a missionary in India in the early 1800s. He was a brilliant man. He died at the age of 31. He was once called upon to sit in an Islamic council. And the Islamic professors basically hammered him and one of the Muslim professors spoke first, and spoke for an hour. And it says in the biography that Henry Martyn sat there in complete silence for the whole hour. He responded to nothing. In fact, it was so perplexing and frustrating that they said, ‘Why don’t you say something?’ And he said, ‘Nothing depends on what is being said.’ And then the professor decided that he would dishonour Christ, and he suggested that Mohammed was so powerful, that Christ would one day beg him for mercy. And Henry Martyn says, ‘I was cut to the soul at this blasphemy. I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified. It would be hell to me if He were dishonoured.’ And he immediately presented a very brief dismantling of Islam and a very brief, brilliant summary of Christianity. And he turned to the professor and he said, ‘My prayer is that you, who have been a guide to men in the way you thought right, may now both see the truth, and call men to God, through Jesus Christ.’ You see, the problem for Henry Martyn was not – will he speak? The problem was will he say something that is of judgement, or will he say something that is of salvation.
Now multiply that a million billion times, and you have the Lord Jesus, the Lord of creation, the Lord of revelation. His authority is so total, that He can speak, and what He speaks, will achieve. Or, He can be silent, and what He is silent on, will achieve. The question for Jesus is not – can He get through to these people? He is not helpless. He is not hopeless. The question is – what will He get through with? He says, in Matthew Chapter 11, ‘No-one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.’
So friends, what this says to me (and I have been quite struck by this, and I hope you are too): we must not measure the ability of Jesus to communicate by public interest. Rather, we must ask the question: how serious is it if He says nothing, and how gracious is it if He says the gospel and knocks on your door and calls you?
And in the end, what Jesus has said is going to be heard, because (and this is the third thing) the victory of Christ (Verse 27). When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know. Everything will come clear. This is going to be a great turning-point. Now of course, it’s a clear reference to the crucifixion – that is where Jesus will be lifted up by people. And of course that’s where, at the crucifixion, He will suffer darkness death and. That’s where people like you and me might have light and life. But when He says that He is going to be lifted up, it’s a very pregnant phrase. It’s like that phrase, ‘I am going away’. It’s a very pregnant phrase isn’t it. I’m going to the cross, I’m going to the grave, I’m going to the ascension, I’m going to the throne. He says: when you have lifted Me up, I will be lifted to a cross, then I will be lifted by the Father from the grave, and then I am going to be lifted to Heaven; and then I will be lifted up to the throne. It’s a very pregnant phrase. And nobody, says Jesus, nobody can miss finally seeing that I am the light of the world and the Lord of the world. It is a very wonderful thing, that many people began to see, when Jesus was crucified. Many people began to understand for the first time when they understood the cross. Many people began to see, when they understood the resurrection. And of course, everybody will know when they see Him on the throne. Everybody.
Dale Ralph Davis tells a story. It’s quite a tearful story of a young soldier who is sentenced to die under Cromwell. And it was decided that he would be hung as the great bell sounded from the city town hall as it struck noon. And the young soldier’s fiancée went to the tower and climbed the tower and tied herself to the hammer of the bell. And so when it came to twelve noon, the sexton started to pull the bell cord and tugged and tugged and tugged with all his might and could get no sound from the bell. And eventually, of course, he gave up. And the girl, of course, now severely beaten, climbed down from the tower and went across to the place of her fiancées execution. And according to the story, when Cromwell saw her, when he saw what she had been through, he immediately knew and declared the man would be set free.
And Jesus says: when people see, through the cross, through the resurrection, through the preaching of the gospel, one day on the throne, they will know that He was the Lord of the world and the light of the world. This, of course, is very joyful for every receiver, but very dreadful for every refuser. This is a masterful conversation, the little section that we have looked at this morning, you see. It is so urgent, it is a death or life discussion. It is so authoritative. Jesus can put a person in the darkness or in the light. And it’s so victorious, because in the end, everybody – everybody will get it.
Well, Verse 30 tells us that many immediately responded in faith. I hope everybody here this morning has put their faith in Jesus. He is the light of the world. He is the only hope you have. He is the only One who can pay for your sins, and see you through the grave, and up to glory. I hope everyone here has put their faith in Jesus. You must get down on your knees and put your faith in Him, Saviour and Lord – no qualifications.
And this is the great Lord that we trust. This is the Lord we obey. There is great opposition to Jesus. There is going to be more, but He is unstoppable. He is the light of the world. And there is no better news for the world.
Let’s pray. Let’s bow our heads. Our Heavenly Father, we bow this morning in the face of the Scriptures that are here. We give You enormous thanks that You have sent the Lord Jesus as the light of the world, undeserved by us, and we too foolish to even work it out. We thank You that You have been pleased to illumine so many minds and hearts in this building, so that we might understand Him and trust Him and follow Him. We thank You that He has launched a gospel which is urgent, authoritative and ultimately victorious. And we pray that You would help us as we follow Him in this world and as we seek to serve Him, to bravely and lovingly and courageously and in Your goodness, effectively, tell people He is the light of the world. We ask it in His name. Amen.